When to Give Your Spouse the ‘Silent Treatment’?

A husband comes home from work. His wife is silent, giving muted, monosyllabic replies to his cheerful banter.

“What’s wrong?” He asks.

No response.

“Is it something I said?”

Still no reply. By now he is racking his brain, going over the events of the past week to fish out the possible reason for his wife’s mood.

After a few hours of self-critique, he asks her outright, “Why are you so quiet? Please tell me.”

No response again.

Later on, lying in bed, he wonders with an exasperated sigh, “What is it that I did wrong?!”

This is not a rare scenario in most marriages. Whether the ‘silent treatment’ is meted out by the wife or the husband, bottling up feelings and emotions, avoiding candid conversation, and deliberately turning a cold shoulder to one’s spouse in order to make them ‘pay’ for something offensive or hurtful that they did,not just creates an emotional and physical distance between both spouses, but also subsequently turns the atmosphere inside the home to one of icy awkwardness that even affects the children.

Sadly, this is something that happens often in many family homes.

The question is, why? Why does someone become cold and aloof from their spouse, and refuses to talk to them?

“Punishment” for a mistake

Many a time, the silent treatment is given by one spouse to another in order to make the latter ‘pay’ for doing something that hurt or offended the former. This is especially true for younger, more immature couples who have been married a shorter time.

E.g. A wife might inadvertently forget to serve food or drinks to her husband first when the couple is visiting her parents’ home, unintentionally asking her parent or sibling to partake first from the tray of food.

In marriages that are still new, something so trivial might be enough for a husband to take offense at, mistakenly perceiving a minor slip of hers as a blow to his ego. He might ‘return the favor’ by giving her the silent treatment for a couple of hours or overnight, depending on the level of his maturity and the size of his ego.

As the years pass in a marriage, and a couple are able to establish a better understanding of each other’s intrinsic natures and personalities; of what ticks the other off and what hurts the other’s feelings; giving the ‘silent treatment’ to their spouse should ideally become restricted only to instances of absolute necessity viz. when that spouse consistently disobeys Allah and/or crosses the limits of Deen.

The Quran and sunnah of Allah’s messenger (peace be upon him) throw some light about when and how giving the silent treatment to one’s spouse becomes necessary and justified.

Husband “leaving his wife’s bed”

In one of the most debate-igniting verses of the Quran, Allah provides a 3-step strategy for Muslim husbands to correct their wives when the latter become consistently and willfully defiant, described in Arabic as “naashizah”.

First, Allah orders the husband to admonish, advise and educate his wife about the serious repercussions of her defiant actions upon her Akhirah, as well as upon the happiness and longevity of their marriage.

If this admonishment and advice does not work over time, then the next step that he must resort to, is what the ayah describes as “relinquishing her in bed”.

Anyone who has endured challenges in their marriage, will know what it feels like to be relinquished in bed i.e. when one spouse loses all interest in sexual intimacy, either by circumstance (e.g. forced physical separation due to employment, travel or immigration purposes) or by choice (e.g. one spouse totally stops loving the other).

A married, sexually active woman thrives on the loving words, sexual advances, and physical caresses of a doting, attentive, and caring husband. When such a wife is faced with the willful sexual indifference of her husband, it serves as a big ‘blow’ that is supposed to “shake her” into correcting her behavior.

When he forsakes her in bed for the sake of Allah, she gets a chance to experience the pain caused by his cold indifference or ‘silent treatment’, which should hopefully make her reflect very seriously upon her behavior and abandon her willful defiance.

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